PARK COUNTY, Mont. - Since the beginning of the school year (about 1 1/2 weeks from the time of this article), Park County Health Officer Dr. Laurel Desnick said she's had to call the families for two elementary classrooms to let them know that class was temporarily closed due to COVID.
"We have two classes out, which means an entire grade level for some of these county schools," Dr. Desnick said. "I was all geared up to call every family. I was like, 'If they yell at you, it's okay. You are doing your job.' Nothing. Absolutely gracious, appreciative, concerned."
Dr. Desnick said the symptoms they are seeing for this wave of COVID are a little different than they were last year:
"What we're seeing is GI, stomach, nausea, throwing up, low grade fevers of 100, sinus congestion, runny nose, sore throat."
Dr. Desnick said they are seeing younger people affected by COVID this time. They are seeing kids give it to other kids, and kids give it to parents, which she said they didn't see last year.
"Last year, we could very confidently say it was the adults giving it to each other, bringing it in," she said. "There was virtually no spread down into the students. Everybody was masked, but I think that the original COVID acted differently. We were really pretty confident that the kids were quite safe. This time around, I would not say that."
Fortunately, she said they haven't seen any kids hospitalized with COVID in Park County, but they are seeing younger adults in the hospital.
"We have had 25-year-olds in the hospital in the past few weeks, which really got our attention. We had none of that last year. I can't think of one. And, I can think right now of three that were under the age of 30 who were hospitalized."
"We have had a death a week in Park County for the last three weeks; everybody under 60, which is terrifying and shocking," Dr. Desnick added.
She said that right now, they are in a high transmission moment:
"We are in a very high transmission moment. And we know, even with all of our testing, we were testing five days a week for the last week all over the county for free, we are missing a lot of cases because we kept getting stories of 'I'm sick. Everyone I know is sick. Nobody wants to get tested. I'm here because I'm worried.'" And, sure enough. We can presume we are missing as many as five cases for every one we can document."
"We, case-wise, are about where we were in Park County a week or two before Thanksgiving last year," she said. "And, once we hit that point, and then we had Thanksgiving break, our cases just went up, up, up through December and into January. And, if we're already at this level in August, we're very concerned about what lies ahead unless we all rethink our behavior, rethink our personal strategies and join together as a community to stop this."
Dr. Desnick said 40% of people in Park County ages 12-17 have been vaccinated. She also said none of the schools in Park County are currently requiring students to wear masks.